The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP breathes easy but blast on hold

New Delhi, Feb. 27: A sense of satisfaction descended on the BJP headquarters here today as it stayed in the race in Jharkhand and unseated the ruling party in Bihar, both of which it thought impossible even six months ago.

The BJP may or may not form the government in Ranchi and Patna but its leaders believe that the National Democratic Alliance played a big role in humbling Laloo Prasad Yadav at the hustings against general expectations.

This, they believe, they did by providing the first political focus to the 'undercurrent' of popular discontent against his 'misrule'.

Equally, few disputed the claim that it was no mean task to turn the NDA's fortunes around in a badly fractured unit in Jharkhand, where it was down to a single seat in the May parliamentary elections.

The BJP, however, did not revel in its 'victories'. A worker was gently told not to jump the gun when he asked a party vice-president if he ought to burst crackers and distribute sweets.

He was told the Congress could celebrate over Haryana as its mandate was clear and it was also ruling at the Centre. But the BJP could savour neither joy.

Blunting the edge of the NDA's good show was an uncomfortable feeling that the permutations and combinations the fractured Bihar mandate had thrown up might trigger a crack in the alliance itself.

A rumour that Laloo Prasad was 'persuading' his former buddies Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav to come out of the BJP's 'changul (clutches)' and revive socialist unity, with the intermediate castes as the fulcrum, was not dismissed out of hand.

So as the results trickled in, BJP general secretary and Bihar prabhari (in-charge) Arun Jaitley rushed to Kumar's house and posed for a photo-op with Janata Dal (United) leaders. The message was clear: their Bihar alliance would stay through thick and thin.

The BJP's central leaders made it a point to have George Fernandes, Kumar and Yadav over when they met in the evening to assess the results and think up strategies.

The party took note of the reservations, reportedly expressed by Kumar and Yadav, over making overtures to Ram Vilas Paswan to form a government in Patna. The 'temptation' to head a government had to be weighed against the danger of losing an old ally, sources admitted.

'The BJP-Dal contested Bihar and Jharkhand together and campaigned together. Our experience is very good' and there is 'no occasion to consider any other option than staying together', Jaitley said at a news conference when asked if Kumar could break away.

If the urgent need to keep the NDA together was strong, the BJP's second-generation leaders were apparently unconcerned at the party's perception that the competition to grab credit for the coalition's revival may harm its image.

Sources were reluctant to admit that general secretary Rajnath Singh put the party back on track in Jharkhand when he was made prabhari.

Only one person called him a 'silent killer', attributable to Singh's media-shy ways. His triumph, first in Chhattisgarh and now in Jharkhand, was otherwise dismissed as 'collective' effort.

Singh, who is tipped to be the observer when the legislature party meets tomorrow to elect a leader, will be 'assisted' by M. Venkaiah Naidu at party chief L.K. Advani's bidding.

Another general secretary, Pramod Mahajan, who did the legwork in Bihar ' albeit on a chopper on which he addressed 68 meetings 1 was packed off to Panaji to help Manohar Parrikar when the Congress government in Goa faces a vote of confidence tomorrow.

The ones who were around were booked by television channels.

The glitches aside, the biggest silverlining the BJP spotted in today's verdict was that the cracks in the UPA could widen in the days to come.

The Congress's 'restive' allies like the Left, RJD, DMK and the NCP could look for other 'options', the party believes. It knows it would be to the NDA's advantage if an 'accident' occurred in the middle of the 14th Lok Sabha's tenure and a mid-term poll was necessitated.

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